ATTUNGA

Date 17 January 2013.
Author Iarwain iarwain@aanet.com.au
Subject Attunga Part 4.

The author retains copyright (2013) to this story. Reproducing this story for distribution without the author's permission is a violation of that copyright.
This story is fiction.

Thank you Nifty for the opportunity to post this story.

This story is part of the TALES OF THE TERRAN DIASPORA.
Wirrin shares his life with two friends on one of the great space habitats.

PART 4. Wirrin meets the dolphins.



Gelar took the trio to a new expanse of water.

"This is a different reach."

"Yes, it joins with Puck's birthing pool and it's her pod's main territory."

"What are we supposed to do this time?"

"Whatever feels right. Much as you did last time, except that with your face masks you'll feel much more involved."

The masks had two functions, first to let them see clearly underwater and second to give them an air supply. In the water, Wirrin slipped his mask on, adjusted the mouthpiece then ducked under and looked round. He laughed in his throat at the magnified sight of Calen and Thom, then again when Thom flexed his arm to show how big his muscles were with the enlarging effect. Calen's head was twisting in all directions looking, in the crystal clear water, for any sign of the dolphins. There weren't any, so they started enjoying the water and swimming with their weighted bodysuits. Last time they'd worn ordinary swimming pouches, but because this was likely to be an extended session they'd been given full bodysuits so the cool temperature of the water wouldn't affect them.
Wirrin, thinking he saw a movement in the distance signalled to Calen by pointing, but after watching for a moment decided his mind was playing anticipation tricks. Thom swam away from the shallower edge of the reach and Wirrin and Calen followed. They knew from Calen's research that, except for special diving areas, all the reaches ranged from one to five meters in depth. For a while they mucked around, basically just playing and enjoying the freedom of not having to surface for a breath. They were all competent in the water, though Thom was the best and also the keenest on different water activities. He was showing off now, doing backward loops, and Calen was close by, copying him.
Wirrin watched the silvery clouds of bubbles rising in their quivery journey to the surface. He gasped, in his mind because of his mouthpiece, as a dark grey shape came gliding next to Thom and Calen. It was Flute and he recognised her straight away, mostly because of the yellow and black tag, but also because of an irregular section in her dorsal fin. How did she appear out of nowhere like that in this clear water? Thom, just finishing one of his loops, and Calen, halfway through one of his own and noticeably better than when he started a few minutes ago, both came to an abrupt halt. Flute, with an effortless twitch made her own backward loop, as if to say that was how it should be done, then came to a stop with her head lightly pressed against Calen's side. After a short moment she repeated the pressure with Thom and Wirrin then darted five or six metres away. Calen was smiling. With a mouthpiece that was awkward but Wirrin knew he was managing it because he was doing the same.
In the distance, where Flute was looking, vague movement transformed to two distinct shapes, one big, the other small, as Puck and Sonic grew gradually larger and clearer. Wirrin felt the same sense of excitement that moved him in the viewing gallery and on impulse raised his hand in the slow wave greeting gesture. Puck, now next to Flute, flicked her head back and drifted close. Sonic bumped against her then flicked to the surface for air before returning to press close, his eyes alert and watching the three strange creatures in this, his first water meeting with humans. Puck bumped her beak gently against Calen's chest then remained still when Calen rested his hand on her head.
Wirrin's heart raced when Sonic imitated his mother with a nudge. Calen's free hand slowly moved and rested for a moment. There was a quick flip of movement. The nudge was repeated with Thom, and then Wirrin's heart leapt yet again at the inquisitive little bump against his chest. His hand extended and he felt a surge of wonder and enjoyment at the contact.
Sonic darted to his mum, bumped her in the side, repeated the chest nudge with Calen, Thom and Wirrin, then flashed to Flute for yet another nudge.
Was it a game? Was it a greeting? Wirrin had a sense that Sonic, in his enjoyment of learning something new, was playing it over and over.
Wirrin watched the little dolphin surface for another breath of air, return to Puck, circle round Calen, zip over to Flute for another nudge, then dart away at amazing speed.
Oh my! There were five more dolphins gliding in and Sonic bumped one, then rushed back to Puck and Calen. When Calen moved his hand to make contact Sonic dodged away, and then in a swirl of speed, zipped behind Calen and nudged his back. In his amusement Wirrin laughed with a funny grunting sound in his throat then jerked in surprise when something bumped his own back. Flute had sneaked up on him.

***

"Yes, every dolphin in the pod was there at the end. It was exciting."

Exciting was an understatement and at the moment Wirrin didn't know whether to dance in delight or fall in a heap from exhaustion. If Calen was going to do this every day he was either going to become a fitness freak or a physical wreck.

"How clever is Sonic? He's only three weeks old and he understands counting."

"We're not sure. Flute and Puck tell us he's special and the whole dolphin community are certainly treating him that way."

"Have Flute and Puck said anything about that? I mean Puck is his mum and Flute's his auntie. I guess they might think that any way."

Gelar shook his head.

"Be careful not to put human characteristics onto dolphins Calen. They do insist it's important for him to associate closely with humans. That would be easy. Every person here would love to be involved. What's really surprised us is their singling you out and asking for daily meetings. That's exciting in its own right, as it's never happened before."

"Why have they picked me? They know you rangers a lot better."

"We asked them that. They just say you're the right person. At any rate, we all hope you'll decide to make an ongoing commitment after a few months trial."

Wirrin and Thom were as surprised as Calen.

"I thought I already had?"

"Calen, of course not. At this stage of your life you can't make an important decision like that without any actual experience. You'll have another opportunity in twelve months time as well. Now let's get you set up in your living space."

***

The next three months were a mixture of changes, excitement and hard work.
The biggest changes were for Calen. His basic EdCom work stayed the same of course but the forty% devoted to Zoology electives switched to mainly subjects connected with dolphins, and as well there was at least an hour of daily interaction with Sonic.
Wirrin and Thom changed a section of their electives to dolphin communication as well, but basically continued with Information studies for Wirrin and Organics for Thom. Everything was exciting. Gelar encouraged them to be involved in everything to do with the dolphinarium and arranged personal skimmers for Wirrin and Thom so they could travel the reaches.
Calen automatically had one to facilitate meeting with Sonic and Puck, and he became so skilled with it that he won every time they raced, much to Thom's disgust, as he was the speed freak.
They frequented the zero-G swimming pool on their activity days, as well as a virtual reality centre which specialised in Earth adventures, where you could climb mountains, explore jungles, race across the desert or whatever was the latest dataset transmitted from Earth. Twice they went on a Warrakan viewer, to watch how the drive engine installations were growing, and to give Thom his speed thrill. Warrigal was the main spur for extra concentration with their EdCom and electives efforts, and made regular fortnightly holo visits to talk with and encourage them. That in itself brought on many discussions as previously their meetings had been on a three monthly schedule.

"He's not just being interested in us Wirrin. I think there must be some other reason he's so keen for us to lift our levels. I've never heard of anyone having so many meetings."

"It could be because people don't change from their home sector like we have. He's the one who changed the rules and he might be making sure he's done the right thing."

"I think he likes hearing what's happening with Calen and Sonic."

"He does. He smiles whenever I talk about Sonic and I know he sometimes watches when I'm with the pod."

"He's been watching me too. He knew I was trying to access the dolphinarium's database."

"And me. In that meeting yesterday he asked me about the protein structure I've been building in Organics."

Wirrin was most impressed.

"Protein structure? You've never told us you could do that."

Thom laughed.

"Well I don't actually do it myself, but I do know enough to set it up. This one is designed to help Calen's swimming muscles."

"My muscles? What's wrong with them?"

"Nothing, except that you carry on after every session in the reaches, telling us how wrecked you are."

"Of course I'm wrecked. Swimming for an hour with dolphins wrecks anyone."

"I know, and this structure will help. I used your biodata to match it exactly with your body so it should make swimming easier."

"Really? Thom, that's unreal. Will it be ready soon?"

"Another week I think."

Wirrin and Calen listened while Thom explained some more but didn't really understand, which made Thom laugh again.

***

"You won't know the difference. It's exactly the same as talking to anybody else."

Wirrin, Cullen, and Thom had never had direct contact with a machine intelligence and Gelar had just informed them that the city AI involved in dolphin interests would be present at their meeting and they didn't know what to make of it. They'd seen them on newsfeeds and the inter-web, but meeting one face-to-face was not a common happening. Of course, you were really seeing the holographic representation they chose for you, and on Attunga, as most everywhere else, that was a human form.

"He's really friendly Wirrin."

"He?"

Gelar laughed.

"Yes, his holo's male and after a few minutes that's the way you think."

"Have you met him much?"

"Every time there's an important decision concerning the dolphins."

Calen looked to Wirrin and Thom and then at Gelar.

"Do you think he might want someone else to work with Sonic?"

"No I don't. Puck would rip him to shreds if he did."

The idea of anything ripping an AI to shreds was so startling they couldn't help smiling.

"That's better. Now let's get on with this decision."

With their apprehension slightly abated they followed Gelar into the conference room. Warrigal and another man looked up when they entered and smiled. Wirrin felt himself relax at Warrigal's welcoming expression and was really glad he was there to help. Well, he was probably really at his office in their old sector, but holos were so advanced these days you couldn't tell the difference. The other man raised his arm and made the slow wave used for dolphin greetings and nodded when it was returned.

"Thank you boys. I am Turaku and I welcome you to my place."

Wow, Wirrin felt great. This was the old welcome-to-country greeting of an elder. There was quiet for a moment then Turaku's features changed to a smile matching Warrigal's.

"Calen, your time with Sonic is proving more successful than expected and someone else will take your place only if you're not available. I know your intentions, but before we formalise them there are things you need to know and decisions you need to make with your trio. Because of your age you should be having another decision point but Sonic's importance is so significant we need to provide every assistance we can for his development. For you that involves agreeing to a commitment in the order of eight to ten years."

Calen nodded vigourously and looked at Thom and Wirrin. They'd already talked about the later decision time and there was no doubt from any of them that he would be continuing if it was possible.

"To improve your communication with Sonic I'm proposing memory and reception enhancement and to prevent alienation in your trio, Wirrin and Thom would need a similar treatment."

Wirrin could hardly believe what he was hearing. The enhancements Turaku was talking about were like everything else on Attunga, available to anyone who wanted them, provided they were ready, and in this case it meant having finished the second level of education and training. Most people did this, but not till they were thirty or forty years old and then finished nine or ten years later. Warrigal caught their attention.

"It involves a major alteration in the structure of your courses. To prepare you adequately would require at least thirty percent of your current study and training time and that means extending your first level finish for another two years."

Wirrin understood what was needed. It was a major section of his Information elective as well as part of his own long-term plan, but he wasn't quite sure how it would affect Thom. He couldn't think about it though as Turaku started speaking again.

"The other major consideration is whether you're prepared to leave Attunga."

Shocked, Wirrin wondered why Warrigal was smiling. No one in their right mind would leave Attunga. It was the best habitat in the Solar System. Well, ...except for Warrakan.

"Yes, in three years Puck's pod is moving to Warrakan and if you stay with the project we'll need you to go with them."

No wonder Warrigal was smiling. In their discussions about Warrakan he'd always said they had a good chance, but that it was unlikely they'd know anything significant for another five or six years. Wirrin's first thought was for Thom who, despite his pessimism, was their driving force with everything concerning Warrakan, but then he had another thought.

"Ah... Do you mean just while Warrakan is still here?"

"No, permanently, unless you have a change of heart and don't wish to travel to Alpha Centauri. We are not expecting that."

Thom had an almost idiotically blissful smile. The only misgiving they'd had about Calen's dolphin commitment was the possibility that it might clash with their Warrakan hopes, and now, like magic, it was all cleared up. Silence settled for a moment while they took it in then Turaku started speaking again.

"It's always been desired to have sentient dolphins as part of Warrakan, but with their strong community sense they've never considered breaking their pod links, so the decision just a week ago by Puck and her pod to join the first traveller community has been a real surprise. We are facilitating that in every way and construction of an appropriate environment has already commenced. Gelar will explain those details. Do you have any questions?"

There was something and it had been reinforced when Turaku first started speaking.

"Can you tell us why Sonic is so special? Everyone keeps saying he is but they never say why."

"Sonic will be a new link between dolphin, human and machine sentience. His intelligence and learning ability are new for a dolphin and exceed that of most humans. The bond he is forming with Calen is a step on the path to understanding three different ways of living and thinking. This is first level information and Warrigal will explain its ramifications."

After a short pause his suddenly serious manner changed.

"That sounded official enough to impress you with its importance. I'll return when you are ready."

***



END OF PART 1.
I hope you've gained some enjoyment from this story.
Any comments and feedback would be greatly appreciated.
My email address is iarwain@aanet.com.au
Alternative address, iarwain7@ains.net.au
Should you be interested, my other stories can be found by looking under 'Iarwain' in the authors section on Nifty.
Iarwain.